Chinese employers do not hide their preference for male workers. In fact, they write it directly in job ads.
For men only, Chinese companies tell job seekers
Recruiting advertisements in China reflect severe discrimination against female job seekers, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.
Although Chinese law prohibits gender discrimination in hiring, the rules are loosely enforced. And there are commonly repeated, deeply ingrained ideas about the types of jobs that are considered suitable for women.
“In almost every country, you see stereotypes against women,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
“What we have found in China is how blatant the gender discrimination is in job advertising.”
“Men only”, “men preferred” or “suitable for men” have been commonly used in jobs ads in both the public and private sectors, the rights group found after analyzing over 36,000 online job postings.
According to the report, these are the reasons given by Chinese employers for favoring men:
#1: The jobs are too hard for women
“Men-only” job advertisements often contain descriptions that imply the job is not suitable for women.
These job ads are frequently found in fields that involve heavy physical labor, such as construction, security and logistics, although many postings do not require specific physical capabilities.
In the 2018 national civil service recruitment drive, 19% of the nearly 3,000 postings asked for men or that stated men were preferred.
Only one opening, a statistics researcher job, specified a preference for woman because it involved “long-term communication with villagers.”
The departments in charge of railways, statistics, and maritime safety had the highest proportion of “men-preferred” or “men-only” openings.
“People do tend to think in terms of ‘manly’ jobs and ‘womanly’ jobs,” said Qian Yue, an expert on gender issues at the University of British Columbia.
“Women don’t take certain jobs not because they are biologically incapable, but because by doing that they would violate the traditional female image.”
#2: Women spend too much time on child care
In China, female employees are entitled to at least 98 days of paid maternity leave, but the country has no national standard for paternity leave.
To avoid the costs of granting workers maternity leaves, some employers state in job ads that they will only accept female applicants who have already given birth.
Qian said employers also tend to reject women in the belief that women care more about their families than their careers.
“With China’s two-child policy, discrimination in the labor market will only get worse,” Qian said. “One way to reduce gender discrimination is to make child care less attached to men or women.”
#3: There are too many women
The preference for men is also growing in some fields that have traditionally been considered more suitable for women.
Kindergartens in China have been posting “men-preferred” ads, because they worry that a lack of male teachers is making boys effeminate and timid.
“The lack of males makes children prone to look at and solve problems according to the way women think and behave,” a kindergarten principal told the state-run Xinhua news agency in 2017.
Some hospitals have also indicated their preference for male nurses, the Southern Daily reported in 2016, because they need people with “good physical strength” working in ICUs and ERs.
A wide gender gap
China's tech giants, including Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu, have posted "men-only" or "men-preferred" job ads in the past, according to the report. (Alibaba owns Inkstone.)
The companies have also published job ads that boasted about the attractiveness of their current female employees, a practice the human rights group says encourages discrimination and sexual harassment against women.
A spokesperson for Alibaba said the company has clear policies regarding gender equality in recruitment. Baidu said the job posts had been removed and did not reflect the company's dedication to workplace equality. A Tencent spokesperson also apologized for the ads and pledged to make immediate changes.
Although civic and political activism are discouraged in China, prevalent gender-based discrimination has prompted more women to speak out.
Guo Jing, a social worker based in the southern city of Guangzhou, sued a culinary school in 2014 after the school rejected her job application on the grounds that she was not a man.
She won the case, and was granted $319 in compensation.
In November last year, Guo set up a “Zero Discrimination” hotline to help women fight against workplace discrimination.
The hotline has since heard from over 30 women who complained of hiring biases, workplace sexual harassment and the discrimination against pregnant employees.
One of them was told by a company that she would only be hired if her boyfriend joined as well. Another woman said she was fired for becoming pregnant.
“Women’s abilities are getting ignored,” Guo said. “Their full talents are not being shown.”
While some ads specify a preference for women, they tend to be for low-skilled and low-earning positions such as housekeepers, childcare workers, and secretaries, according to Human Rights Watch.
The group says the discriminatory hiring practices in China have contributed to a wide gender gap in labor participation and income.
Last year, China ranked 100 out of 144 countries in the annual Global Gender Gap report by the World Economic Forum, after falling for nine years in a row.
Nationwide, Chinese women made an average of 62% of what men earned in 2017, according to the World Economic Forum.
Additional reporting by Xinyan Yu, Yujing Liu and Louise Moon